During my senior year of high school, a friend of mine choked to death on his dinner. He had begun to feel ill, excused himself from the family dinner table, went to the upstairs bathroom and proceeded to choke on his own food until he was no more.
I was the typical ‘popular guy’ in high school. It was a time in life when I was a leader by example, a teen that other teens may have looked up to. In the movie of Tony’s death, my character would have stepped forward as a source of strength to others, a shoulder on which to cry. The protagonist who speaks deeply profound, inspirational words that would comfort the broken hearts of others.
But I hadn’t read the script. I cowered instead. Buses were made available in order to shuttle students from the high school to the Catholic Church on the day of Tony’s funeral. I do remember that I went through the entire book of excuses looking for a reason not to board one of those buses. But to this day, I have no recollection of whether I got onto a bus or not.
I don’t like death. It’s no fun to be around. In retrospect, it was kind of funny when our family swordfish Sally did one final full gainer onto the living room carpet and was discovered by my sister, who promptly startled the family awake with her blood curdling screams. I do understand the concept of death. Or the multiple concepts, as it seems. I don’t like funerals. I have no real place for death anywhere in my life at this moment. Perhaps later, at a more convenient time. I’ve faced the real possibility of my own death on multiple occasions throughout the years, but I was always determined to be ineligible at the time.
But why this phobia of death? Or perhaps even a better description, a dislike of death. I don’t really fear my own death, I just don’t like being around anything that involves the concept of death until my own moment of departure.
As a toddler, I was very close with two of my grandparents. So close in fact, that we literally lived together on the same property of land. They both died between the time that I was born and the day of my fifth birthday. I’ve often wondered if under a licensed hypnotic state, a glaring mental blockage would be unveiled, leading the professionals to say “Ah, ha, I think that we have our answer!” I have no memory of either one of their funerals, but my Mom tells the story of how I had once asked her a question after visiting their gravesite. “But who’s going to feed them cereal in the morning?”
The different religions of the world have varying viewpoints on the subject of death, but every religion acts as a tool to their followers in accepting death as a natural part of life. You got your Hindus and reincarnation, which seems to be working out well for the nation of India, with the enormous number of people and cows. You got your 72 virgins waiting for you in some versions of the Koran’s explanation of ‘Paradise’, which sounds really cool, unless you’re a woman. Then you only get one man, and “the woman will be satisfied with him”. The math just doesn’t seem to add up here for some reason. The Tibetan Buddhist and the resolution of grief seems like a really neat idea at first, your deceased love one being left at the top of a high mountain to rejoin nature. But then you read further about the exotic sounding ‘sky burial’; how your body will be cut up into little pieces by the priests and left for the vultures to devour. So I’m sticking with Heaven and Hell.
The last visual memory that I have of my other set of grandparents, together in the same room alive, is an extremely emotional, stunning vision, almost like a famous painting on display in my mind. But it provokes sadness within me at the same time. My Grandma had always been the epitome of the strong, country woman. Fixing dinner for the clan, picking fresh flowers to grace the windows of her front porch, attending church every Sunday. And there she lie withering away due to illness, my Granddad sitting attentively, devoutly by her bedside. A picture of love.
Years ago, in my only close attempt at fatherhood, little Andrew died in the womb. The mother carried our dead son in her belly for several days until the doctors determined that it was both necessary, and safe for the mother, to have labor medically induced. When asked who is stronger, Man or Woman, I’m voting woman. I don’t know how she did it. On the one year anniversary of Andrew’s ‘birth’, I had me a little pity-party. There were only two guests invited. Myself, and a 1.5 liter box of cheap, red wine. At just around midnight, on the back patio of my house, something comforting happened to me. The sky was mostly clear and the stars were twinkling. The outline of the occasional cloud was highlighted by the glow of this evening’s full moon. And just as I was about to take my sorry self to bed, I looked up at the full moon once more. A cloud, the shape of your typical Christmas tree angel, slowly floated towards the moon. You know, like heading in the direction of Heaven. I’ll swear on a Bible this to be true. I went inside the house before ever seeing what happened to the cloud, simply because I didn’t want to see it disappear into darkness.
Years ago, my best friend gave me a book to read. It was entitled “No One Here Gets Out Alive”. It’s about the life and times of The Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison, the rock-and-roll icon. The book is divided into three sections. “The Bow is Drawn” “The Arrow Flies” “The Arrow Lands” It’s a great analogy of the tragic story of his life. From humble beginnings, then soaring to superstardom, and finally falling back to Earth. My friend, who gave me this book, passed on just a couple of years ago. We had led a slightly similar lifestyle to Jim throughout the years, with the exception of multiple groupies and No. 1 gold records.
My arrow hasn’t landed yet. It fell back to Earth recently, but safely skidded across the dirt, leaving me with memories of my dearly departed loved ones and comforted by the strong faith taught to me as a child. I’m not finished here on Earth quite yet, but it’s nice to know that there’s something special in which to look forward.